10 Common Mistakes To Avoid When Tipping Restaurant Staff

Uncover the subtle errors that might be leaving your server less than satisfied.
Updated Feb. 7, 2024
Fact checked
Male waiter setting table for couple

We receive compensation from the products and services mentioned in this story, but the opinions are the author's own. Compensation may impact where offers appear. We have not included all available products or offers. Learn more about how we make money and our editorial policies.

Tipping when dining out in the U.S. is standard practice — and like it or not, your server depends on tips to make a living. But for many people, tipping etiquette is confusing.

To avoid shortchanging your server or other staff — or to keep from paying too much — here are 10 common restaurant tipping mistakes. 

Avoiding these errors can help you tip an appropriate amount and keep more money in your wallet than you would if you went overboard.

If you’re over 50, take advantage of massive travel discounts and trip-planning resources

Over 50 and love traveling? Join AARP today — because if you’re not a member, you could be missing out on huge travel perks. When you start your membership today, you can get discounts on hotels and resorts, airfare, cruises, car rentals, and more.

How to become a member today:

  • Go here, select your free gift, and click “Join Today”
  • Create your account (important!) by answering a few simple questions
  • Start enjoying your discounts and perks!

An AARP membership not only unlocks discounts that could save you hundreds on your next trip, but you’ll also have access to deals on vacation packages, guided tours, and exclusive content to help plan your next getaway.

Important: Start your membership by creating an account here and filling in all of the information (do not skip this step!). Doing so will allow you to take up to 25% off your AARP membership, making it just $12 per year with auto-renewal.

Become an AARP member now

Forgetting that 20% is the standard

Prins Productions/Adobe male waiter serving multi ethnic friends

There's some disagreement among diners about the appropriate amount to tip. Many people think anything between 15% to 20% of the bill is acceptable.

However, seasoned servers will tell you that they may worry they did something wrong if they get anything less than 20%.

In most restaurants in the U.S., servers — as well as other staff such as bartenders and bussers — live off tips. Diners should expect to leave 20% on any bill unless it is a “no tipping” establishment.

Not considering coupons/freebies

ViDi Studio/Adobe woman holding gift card at restaurant

If you choose a restaurant because you have a coupon or gift card that knocks a serious chunk off your bill, don’t go cheap with the tip.

Remember, your server is still doing the same work they would if you weren’t getting that discount.

Even though your overall bill is lower, the tip should be calculated based on what the total would be if you paid the full price.

Not tipping on gifted items

Rawpixel.com/Adobe mature friends enjoying breakfast at hotel

Some restaurants will hook you up with a free drink or dessert if you stop by on your birthday. Others simply offer free items to show customers some appreciation now and then.

If you get something for free, it’s typically expected that you’ll consider the normal price of the item while tipping. The same policy applies to bars when a bartender hooks you up with a free drink.

Earn a $250 travel bonus with this incredible card

There's a credit card that's making waves with its amazing bonus and benefits. The Bank of America® Travel Rewards credit card has no annual fee and you can earn 25,000 bonus points after spending $1,000 in purchases in the first 90 days of account opening.

You can earn additional points just by using this card for your everyday purchases — unlimited 1.5 points per $1 spent on all purchases. The 25,000 bonus points can be redeemed for a $250 statement credit toward travel or dining purchases.

If you want to travel and dine out more, the Travel Rewards card can help you get where you want to go.

The best part? There's no annual fee.

Click here to apply now.

Letting the money talk

Dan Dalton/KOTO/Adobe waiter serving fancy dishes to couple

Diners shouldn’t assume they can do whatever they want at a restaurant if they leave a good tip. Even for the best tippers, there's still general restaurant etiquette your server would prefer you to follow.

Remain respectful of staff and other diners. If someone in your party causes some unavoidable chaos — such as a messy toddler, for example — leaving a larger tip can help make up for the extra work staff may have to do.

Punishing waitstaff unnecessarily

fizkes/Adobe couple angry at female waiter

Many things that are beyond your server's control can go wrong at a busy restaurant. Maybe an issue in the kitchen caused your order to be delayed. Or perhaps the restaurant ran out of your favorite dish.

Etiquette experts stress that diners shouldn’t subtract from a server’s tips for things the server cannot control. And if there is an issue, servers would prefer you tell them so they can solve it.

Failing to tip bartenders

Peter/Adobe female bartending making cocktail at bar

While it’s generally not expected to tip 20% on a bar tab, a bartender is still providing a service. It is standard practice to tip them a few dollars.

The general consensus among bartenders is that a $1 to $2 tip per drink is fine if you're just ordering beer, wine, or a simple mixed drink. But if you’re getting a round of complicated cocktails, consider tipping in the 15% to 20% range.

Overlooking the tax

Monkey Business/Adobe waitress collecting payment using tablet

Some diners forget about tax when calculating how much to tip. On smaller bills, this is likely not a big deal.

However, when dining out with a group, and the bill is well over $100, tax can add up, especially if you’re in a high-tax area.

Diners must decide whether to tip on the pre-tax or post-tax total. Etiquette experts say it’s acceptable to tip on the pre-tax total as long as you stick to the 20% model.

Forgoing a tip on bad service

JackF/Adobe male waiter apologizing to female customer

Bad service does happen. Every now and then, diners may get stuck with a server who simply does not pay attention, is rude, or makes multiple mistakes putting in their order.

The impulse may be to skip out on the tip altogether. However, it’s important to remember that tips are typically split between staff, including servers, bussers, and bartenders.

If you really feel like you should lower the tip, consider sticking closer to 15% of the bill so the rest of the staff isn’t penalized too much for someone else’s mistake.

Not paying attention to the tipping screen

Friends Stock/Adobe female friends paying using card

Tipping screens are popping up everywhere these days — much to the ire of some customers. In restaurants, customers sometimes just hit the 20% tipping option without looking at the bill.

Payment platforms like the Square app let restaurant owners choose custom “suggested tip” amounts. That means they can determine if they want to calculate the tip pre-tax or post-tax, change the amounts to more than 20%, and so on.

Customers should look at what they’re tipping before just signing away, even if it takes an extra minute or two to pay.

Earn cash back on everyday purchases with this rare account

Want to earn cash back on your everyday purchases without using a credit card? With the Discover®️ Cashback Debit Checking account (member FDIC), you can earn 1% cash back on up to $3,000 in debit card purchases each month!1

With no credit check to apply and no monthly fees to worry about, you can earn nearly passive income on purchases you’re making anyway — up to an extra $360 a year!

This rare checking account has other great perks too, like access to your paycheck up to 2 days early with Early Pay, no minimum deposit or monthly balance requirements, over 60K fee-free ATMs, and the ability to add cash to your account at Walmart stores nationwide.

Don’t leave money on the table — it only takes minutes to apply and it won’t impact your credit score.

Apply for a Discover Cashback Checking account today

Missing the ‘gratuity included’ note

EdNurg/Adobe woman taking out money from purse

Many restaurants include an “automatic gratuity” for large parties. It is standard to charge this fee for parties of six or more.

Diners can choose if they want to add gratuity on top of this, but it’s standard to include 20% pre-tax for large parties.

When dining with a large party, check the bill for a note about automatic gratuity so you don’t accidentally tip 40%.

Bottom line

cherryandbees/Adobe couple paying at restaurant using smartphone

Even if you’re a bargain diner — and save your nights out for times when you have a Groupon or when restaurants offer good deals — it's still important to tip appropriately.

At the same time, there is no need to go overboard. If you're trying to get ahead financially, tip an amount that's fair — or a bit more if the server has earned it — without getting excessive.

Easy-to-Earn Unlimited Rewards


Card Details

  • Earn 25,000 online bonus points after you make at least $1,000 in purchases in the first 90 days of account opening - that can be a $250 statement credit toward travel purchases
  • Earn 1.5 points per $1 spent on all purchases
  • Longer intro APR on qualifying purchases and balance transfers
  • No foreign transaction fees
  • Apply Now
  • Earn unlimited 1.5 points per $1 spent on all purchases, with no annual fee and no foreign transaction fees and your points don't expire as long as your account remains open.
  • 25,000 online bonus points after you make at least $1,000 in purchases in the first 90 days of account opening - that can be a $250 statement credit toward travel purchases.
  • Use your card to book your trip how and where you want - you're not limited to specific websites with blackout dates or restrictions.
  • Redeem points for a statement credit to pay for travel or dining purchases, such as flights, hotel stays, car and vacation rentals, baggage fees, and also at restaurants including takeout.
  • 0% Intro APR for 15 billing cycles for purchases, and for any balance transfers made in the first 60 days. After the Intro APR offer ends, a Variable APR that’s currently 18.24% - 28.24% will apply. A 3% Intro balance transfer fee will apply for the first 60 days your account is open. After the Intro balance transfer fee offer ends, the fee for future balance transfers is 4%.
  • If you're a Bank of America Preferred Rewards® member, you can earn 25%-75% more points on every purchase. That means instead of earning an unlimited 1.5 points for every $1, you could earn 1.87-2.62 points for every $1 you spend on purchases.
  • Contactless Cards - The security of a chip card, with the convenience of a tap.
  • This online only offer may not be available if you leave this page or if you visit a Bank of America financial center. You can take advantage of this offer when you apply now.
Bank of <span class='whitespace-nowrap'>America<sup>®</sup></span> Travel Rewards credit card
Apply Now

on Bank of America’s secure website

Read Card Review

Intro Offer

Earn 25,000 online bonus points after you make at least $1,000 in purchases in the first 90 days of account opening - that can be a $250 statement credit toward travel purchases

Annual Fee



Why we like it

Author Details

Laura Gesualdi-Gilmore Laura Gesualdi-Gilmore is a seasoned freelance writer who also teaches writing courses at Rutgers University. She's based in Jersey City and enjoys travel, live music and, of course, spending quality time with her pup.

Want to learn how to make an extra $200?

Get proven ways to earn extra cash from your phone, computer, & more with Extra.

You will receive emails from FinanceBuzz.com. Unsubscribe at any time. Privacy Policy

  • Vetted side hustles
  • Exclusive offers to save money daily
  • Expert tips to help manage and escape debt